Legal Matters

The McMansion War

by Patrick Flanagan

As Mike Moreno’s business empire crumbles, so too does his Lafayette home — literally.

Situated on Worth Avenue in River Ranch, oilfield tycoon Mike Moreno’s home — a gaudy, palatial monument to its owner’s affluence — clocks in at over 20,000 square feet and includes a swimming pool, cabana, several outbuildings and a massive retaining wall encircling the property.

In a lawsuit filed by Moreno and his wife, the couple claims the home, constructed a decade ago by local homebuilder/engineer Wayne Hebert near a man-made pond, is now cracking at the seams.

From the Morenos’ suit:

[The Morenos] maintain that Wayne J. Hebert Inc. not only obligated itself to serve as the prime contractor for the construction of the project, but also obligated itself to serve as the engineer which responsibilities included but not extensively, the design, detailing, plans and specifications of all foundations and as indicated on the architectural site plan included in the drawings. Upon completion of the project ... [the Morenos] paid Wayne J. Hebert in full for the engineering services provided and for the construction of the project. After the construction of the residence was completed, [the Morenos] began to notice numerous cracks in the residence, and the additional structures of the residence.

The cracks, according to the suit, began showing up all over the property: inside the residence, along the pool, in the cabana area and along the retaining wall. The Morenos’ home, they allege, is literally crumbling before their eyes.

The suit has since turned into a finger-pointing affair, with Hebert firing back with a lawsuit of his own against Louisiana Testing & Inspection, the company brought on to conduct soil borings at the start of the project.

Here’s Hebert’s claim against Louisiana Testing:

Louisiana Testing & Inspection, Inc. conducted a geotechnical investigation prior to construction at the subject site and indicated that site conditions were adequate for the proposed construction, contrary to the indications in plaintiffs’ most current expert report.

Essentially, at issue is the fill dirt used for the preparation of the home’s foundation.

Businessman Mike Moreno claims in a lawsuit that his River Ranch home and its adjoining structures have foundation problems.
Photo by Robin May

According to the sworn deposition given by David Naomi, a structural engineer hired by the Morenos to analyze the home’s design flaws, “every place on this site where there was fill placed, there are problems, and every place on this site where there was no fill placed, there is no problem.”

Naomi continues:

“[I]f you go up the driveway and there is a walkway going to the kitchen entrance, you look down and you’ll see that there is almost a four-inch gap between the walkway and where the porch area is. The only way for that to have moved would have been the soil to move below it because when I first got involved in this, that was a mystery to me. I was thinking what is going on here. To get into the particulars of why and how it is — you start to get into minutia. You can’t get away from the fact that this is moving away from the house and every place there is movement is fill. ... So you have to reconcile yourself to the fact that if there is no fill here and there’s no movement here and there is fill and there is movement here ... — you have to reconcile is this a cause and effect and I have come to the conclusion that it is indeed a cause and effect. ... Like I said earlier, if the soil wouldn’t be moving, we wouldn’t be here today.

As has been well-documented by this publication, Mike Moreno, who is in his mid-40s, has a reputation for spending a lot of time and resources mounting and challenging lawsuits, and the now years-long battle over the crumbling of his multi-million-dollar home closely mirrors the businessman’s professional struggles — with the latest shot coming from the liquidating trustee charged with maximizing recoveries for creditors of his bankrupt Green Field Energy Services.

On April 6, the New York-based trustee, Alan Halperin, sued Moreno and a group of his companies for $230 million.